Doug Thomson looks ahead to a gloriously uncertain opening round of the new Super League season.
ST HELENS v SALFORD RED DEVILS
Friday 26 March, 6.00pm, Emerald Headingley
Sky Sports Main Event and Arena
Can St Helens become the first side since Leeds in 2009 to win Super League three times in a row?
Can Salford continue their fairy-tale record of reaching finals?
The first match of the new season won’t provide the answers, but it will certainly be interesting – particularly with Richard Marshall, who was Kristian Woolf’s right-hand man at Saints last season, succeeding the highly successful Ian Watson as coach of Salford.
“Rich going over there adds a new dimension to round one,” said Woolf, as he approaches his second campaign since arriving from Newcastle Knights.
“He knows a lot about us, we know something about him, and certainly he will do a great job at Salford.
“This game is a great challenge for us, and a bit of fun into the bargain.”
Saints have three new faces in forwards Joel Thompson (signed from Manly), Sione Mata’utia, the younger brother of Castleford’s Peter (brought in from Newcastle) and Agnatius Paasi (New Zealand Warriors).
At Salford, there have been comings, among them Kiwi forward Elijah Taylor from Wests Tigers, and goings, including fullback Niall Evalds to Castleford and Australian packman Luke Yates, who has been reunited with Watson at Huddersfield.
Marshall, who won acclaim for his work as coach of Halifax, has talked about making small adjustments to help bring another big season for the Red Devils.
His charges produced an impressive performance to clinch a 20-6 win in their pre-season clash with Wigan.
Now it’s about starting the season with a real statement of intent.
Match day 21-man squads
Saints: 1 Lachlan Coote, 2 Tommy Makinson, 3 Kevin Naiqama, 4 Mark Percival, 5 Regan Grace, 6 Jonny Lomax, 7 Theo Fages, 8 Alex Walmsley, 9 James Roby, 10 Matty Lees, 11 Joel Thompson, 12 James Bentley, 14 Sione Mata’utia, 15 LMS, 16 Kyle Amor, 17 Agnatius Paasi, 18 Jack Welsby, 19 Aaron Smith, 20 Joe Batchelor, 21 Lewis Dodd, 22 Josh Simm.
Salford: 1 Morgan Escare, 2 Ken Sio, 3 Kallum Watkins, 4 Krisnan Inu, 6 Tui Lolohea, 7 Kevin Brown, 8 Lee Mossop, 10 Sebastine Ikahihifo, 11 Ryan Lannon, 12 Pauli Pauli, 13 Elijah Taylor, 14 Danny Addy, 17 Josh Johnson, 19 Elliott Kear, 20 Harvey Livett, 22 Rhys Williams, 23 Dan Sarginson, 24 Matty Costello, 25 Jack Ormondroyd, 26 Jack Wells, 29 Dec Patton
Key to Victory: If Salford are going to triumph they will have to match Saints’ strength in the pack in order to give their backs a chance to shine, perhaps using Richard Marshall’s inside knowledge of St Helens to give them a tactical edge.